A new species of whale was discovered in a Alaska, but it has never been seen alive by scientists. In 2014, on St. George Island, a 7-meter beaked whale was found dead on a beach. A biology teacher noticed it and the next person to see the whale was someone who had worked previously as a seal researcher.
This person assumed it was a Baird’s beaked whale. On closer inspection, there were some differences. It was smaller and a had larger dorsal fin that a Baird’s, amongst others.
Molecular geneticist Phillip Morin became involved in the study, along with some other researchers. The new dead whale’s carcass was examined, as were bone powder samples from whales in museums. Also, DNA tests of similar whales were made. Records made by Japanese whaling fleets were studied along with body parts from dead whales.
They concluded that the dead whale which had washed up on the Alaskan beach in 2014 was most likely a separate species—one that had never been scientifically documented.
“It’s a really big deal. If you think about it, on land, discovery of new species of large mammals is exceptionally rare. It just doesn’t happen very often. It’s quite remarkable,” explained Paul Wade, a National Marine Mammal Laboratory scientist, and one of the whale researchers.
The new species hasn’t been formally named yet, but it had an informal name from Japanese fisherman who had seen some of them: karasu. They had been observed by fisherman decades ago, but have never been seen alive by scientists. Groups of them had been seen in Japanese waters at times.
In 2013, Japanese scientists took DNA samples from some of these whales which died in the Hokkaido area, and wondered if they were an unknown whale species.
Though this species has not been officially documented by science yet, there is some related reference information about the whales on Wikipedia, “Sightings during whale watching tours and studies of stranded individuals suggest the possibility of another form of Berardius in the Sea of Okhotsk inclusive of the coast of northern Hokkaido especially around Shiretoko Peninsula and offAbashiri. These whales are generally much smaller than known species (6-7m), darker in color, and inhabit shallow waters closer to coastal areas, enough to be trapped within fixed nets for salmons. Local whalers had called them “Kurotsuchi” (= Black Baird’s) or “Karasu” (= Ravens). According to genetic studies, these whales are distinct from any of the known Berardius beaked whales in the Pacific.”
Image Credit: Public domain